According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, just over 26 percent of people over 18 reported binge drinking in the previous 30 days of the study when it was performed in 2015.1
Another 7 percent reported heavy alcohol use. This is congruent with the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report showing that substance abuse in the U.S. is skyrocketing, including alcohol abuse.2
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol poisoning kills six people every day.3
These are deaths related to short-term consumption of toxic amounts of alcohol that leads to central nervous system depression and shutdown in critical areas of the brain controlling breathing, heart rate and body temperature, ultimately resulting in death.4
This statistic does not address other negative effects alcohol has on your health.
In addition to being a central nervous system depressant, alcohol is a carbohydrate lacking in real nutritional value.
Nearly one-third of Americans are obese and according to the CDC, in 2014 there was no state in the U.S. with a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent.5
Although scientists have found associations between alcohol consumption and negative health conditions such as pancreatitis and stomach cancer, what has been missing is the precise nature in which alcohol damages your body.
New research shows that as your body processes alcohol, a transient toxic compound is produced that attacks DNA.6
Alcohol Damages DNA and Increases Risk for Cancer
The research7 demonstrated the effect alcohol had on blood stem cells in mice.
The researchers gave ethanol to mice and then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to study genetic damage on the body by acetaldehyde, produced during the metabolic processing of alcohol.
The researchers from Cambridge University’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology found a buildup of acetaldehyde happened when there is too much for the body to break down, or when mechanisms to reduce acetaldehyde function poorly.8
While previous research had pinpointed acetaldehyde as the culprit that caused DNA damage, those studies were performed on cell cultures and not on a living body.
However, the evidence was strong enough to prompt the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, their highest risk category.9
The researchers chose to study blood stem cells since they quickly replicate and readily spread genetic damage throughout the body.10
Lead author Dr. Ketan Patel commented on the extent of the damage their data revealed, saying:11 “We saw huge amounts of DNA damage in these cells.
Bits of DNA were deleted, bits were broken and we even saw parts of chromosomes being moved about and rearranged.”
The researchers found acetaldehyde breaks and damages DNA in blood cell stem cells, leading to rearranged chromosomes and permanently altering DNA sequences.12
This DNA damage increases your risk for seven types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer. Patel explained:13
“Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells. While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage.”
The study also examined the body’s ability to protect itself from acetaldehyde and identified a family of enzymes that break the compound down into acetate, which your cells can use for energy.
However, millions of people, especially those of Southeast Asian descent, either don’t have these enzymes, or the enzymes are faulty.14
This increases their risk of acetaldehyde accumulation, triggering greater DNA damage and a flushed face.
A second line of defense is a repair mechanism that helps repair DNA. However, Patel has found this doesn’t always work, and some individuals carry mutations in the mechanism.15
Data has revealed the number of deaths related to alcohol consumption and cancer has increased 62 percent in 12 years, rising from 3.6 percent in 2003 to 5.8 percent of deaths worldwide in 2015.16 Patel went on to say:17
“Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers.
“But it’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defense mechanisms are intact.”
Factors That Influence Your Tolerance to Alcohol
There are several ways alcohol may influence your risk of developing cancer.
The American Cancer Society warns just a few drinks each week can increase your risk of breast cancer.18 The risk is higher in women who have low folate levels.
Alcohol affects your hormones and an increased estrogen level triggered by alcohol is linked to breast cancer. Hormone levels are also affected in men, which can lead to infertility.19
Alcohol’s effect on your body is influenced by your body weight, ratio of muscle to fat, and how much and what kind of food you’ve recently eaten.
Alcohol is one of the more addictive substances, and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates 1 in 12 Americans abuse alcohol or are dependent on the drug.20
Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S. and up to 40 percent of hospital beds are used to treat alcohol related conditions, with the exception of maternity and ICU beds.
Your pattern of consumption doesn’t appear to make a difference in the severity of your symptoms.21 Those who binge drink every week or two suffer some of the same conditions as those who drink daily.
Dr. Alex Wodak, emeritus consultant at the Alcohol and Drug Service in Sydney, Australia’s St. Vincent Hospital, describes the differences:22
“I’ve been in France early in morning and people, generally men, order a coffee and have a nip of brandy or whiskey, and they top up regularly during the day. They’re never intoxicated but there’s a formidable physical toll from all of that.
“In the north of Europe, that kind of drinking style is very uncommon and what’s more common is for people to have two-thirds of a bottle of spirits once a week and they set fire to a soccer stadium or slash train seats or belt their wife up or someone in the street they don’t like the look of.”
Since alcohol is a carbohydrate, it not only damages your liver and raises levels of DNA-damaging acetaldehyde, but it also increases your risk of obesity.
Health care costs tied to overconsumption of sugar account for at least one-third of health care costs spent each year in America.23 This equates to nearly $1 trillion each year.
By Dr Joseph Mercola, Guest author (excerpt)
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- 1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- 2 Scientific American, Surgeon General Report Tackles Addiction
- 3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol Poisoning Kills Six People in the U.S. Each Day
- 4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol Poisoning Deaths
- 5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps
- 6 Reuters, January 3, 2018
- 7 Nature, January 3, 2018 doi:10.1038/nature25154
- 8, 10, 11, 15, 17 Science Alert, January 4, 2018
- 9 International Agency for Research on Cancer, Monograph on the Carcinogenic Risks to Humans
- 12, 13, 14 EurekAlert! January 3, 2018
- 16 International Journal of Cancer, 2016; 138(6):1380
- 18 American Cancer Society, Alcohol Use and Cancer
- 19 Alcohol Health and Research World, 1998;22(3):195
- 20 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Facts About Alcohol
- 21, 22 ABC News, March 7, 2016
- 23 Credit Suisse, Sugar Consumption at a Crossroad